Karma members have a yearning to enjoy food at the height of its quality. Karma members also feel a deep sense of responsibility for the impact of our food consumption on the environment and society. One aspect of this is to ensure that food is enjoyed as much as possible and not wasted. Canada wastes $31 billion worth of food annually [Toronto Food Policy Council], so the cooperative takes this responsibility seriously and is committed to maintaining quality while reducing food waste. Karma endeavors to reduce waste at three stages of the value chain:
Approximately 47% of food waste in Canada is produced in consumers’ homes [Toronto Food Policy Council]. To help avoid surplus food that ends up being wasted, Karma is committed to offering many food items in bulk, allowing shoppers to buy the amount they need and not more.
Karma routinely checks products and produce nearing the end of their shelf life early enough to divert them. Prices are reduced before the expiry date for certain foods, including bread and prepared food, to sell them quickly, and damaged produce is placed in the half-price bin. Each week, the equivalent of two big banana boxes full of unsellable but still edible items are donated to the kitchens of Fort York Food Bank and Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre to support the 850,000 Canadians who use food banks each month [Food Banks Canada]. Every day at the store, organic scrap gets carefully separated from recyclables and garbage, to allow efficient processing of each type of waste. Most unsalvageable food is composted in the City of Toronto composting program, which returns nutrients to the soil, reduces methane emissions, and stimulates carbon sequestration. These are other important and harmful aspects of food waste. Worldwide, “the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated to 3.3 Gtonnes of CO2 equivalent: as such, food wastage ranks as the third top emitter after USA and China” [Food and Agriculture Organisation]. Furthermore, some of Karma’s organic waste is collected by farmers to be used as animal feed. Finally, part of the organic waste — about 50 litres a week — also goes to the booming worm population in Karma’s dedicated compost binto be transformed into valuable soil amendment and plant tonic.
At the suppliers
Among other benefits, Karma’s priority to local suppliers means food travels shorter distances, and less food is spoiled during transportation. Karma’s quality standards are based on nutrients rather than aesthetic aspects, so fewer shabby vegetables get discarded and wasted for that reason. Karma’s buying practices do not involve signing many contracts with volume commitments and thus avoid encouraging big inventories at both Karma and its suppliers, which are associated with greater food waste. Karma has close links with four farmers, which allows them to come and offer items left over after a market.
It would be extremely difficult to quantify the positive impact of these efforts on human and animal life and the environment. They show us how Karma achieves the sense of community that its members are so proud of and committed to. Yet, they are only part of the larger contribution of members to reduce, at home and everywhere possible, the food wasted in Canada each year.
Nathalie Rémond, on behalf of the Food Issues Committee